Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog Literary Elements


Novel; Satire; Science Fiction

Setting and Context

The actions take place in Moscow in 1924.

Narrator and Point of View

The narration is from multiple points of view. Many parts of the novel are narrated in the first-person point of view by Sharik (as a dog), but other aspects are narrated from a third-person omniscient point of view. We get lots of insight into how Sharik and Professor Preobrazhensky think, but we see less of how more peripheral characters like Darya and Zina think.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the novel is generally ironic, but it is also rather dynamic, oscillating back and forth between satiric distance and maudlin pity (like at the beginning, where Sharik is lamenting his station in life, or toward the end, where Professor Preobrazhensky comes to regret his experiments).

Protagonist and Antagonist

The major protagonists are Philip Pilippovich and Sharik, while the major antagonists are Polygraph Polygraphovich and Shvonder, representatives of the proletarian class.

Major Conflict

Most of the conflict in the story can be read as a struggle between two social classes, representatives of the intellectual and proletarian strata. Philip Philippovich tries to avoid the Soviet politics of his day and the housing committee by sealing himself off in his apartment, but when one of his own experiments leads the proletariat to make an unwelcome intrusion into his home (in the form of Polygraph Polygraphovich), he is enraged and even sacrifices possible scientific accolades and fame in order to undo his experiment.


The climax happens towards the end of the novel when Polygraph Polygraphovich attempts to wrest control of the apartment with the help of a gun, but loses in a struggle with Dr. Bormenthal. After this explosive confrontation, Sharik is returned to his canine form, returning the novel's action to roughly where it started.


There is very little explicit foreshadowing in the text, but there are a couple notable examples early on in the novel. For example, when Professor Preobrazhenky welcomes Sharik into his apartment for the first time, he addresses him as "Mr. Sharik," an ironic move that later turns literal when Sharik is transformed through surgery into the human Polygraph Polygraphovich (13).


Chapter 5, which describes the transformation of Sharik into a human through the notes of Dr. Bormenthal and Professor Preobrazhensky, might be thought of as a kind of exercise in understatement. Rather than showing us in dramatic and grotesque detail how Sharik is transformed, we are provided with a series of brief and telegraphic notes about the dog's gradual transformation, whereas before the moment that leads to his transformation, the narrative is prolonged and blown up through the use of dense imagery.


Professor Preobrazhensky constantly speaks in lyrics from Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida," which was showing at the Bolshoi during the time of the novel. Moreover, we hear at the beginning of the novel that Sharik is particularly irritated by someone singing "Celeste Aida," who is implied to be Professsor Preobrazhensky. The professor also notably sings a selection from Don Juan.

Still another allusion made in the novel is to the “Correspondence between Engels and Kautsky," a seminal text of Marxism, which Polygraph Polygraphovich argues about with the professor (though he has not fully read and understood it). The text, meant to demonstrate how out of touch Polygraph Polygraphovich truly is with Party ideology, is then burned by Professor Preobrazhensky, which winds up being a crime for which Polygraph Polygraphovich informs on him.


Bulgakov provides us with particularly rich imagery in "Heart of a Dog." In general, however, two particular types of imagery stick out strongly within the text.

First, Bulgakov's use of the grotesque to describe the procedure performed on Sharik not only heightens the satiric tone of the novel, but also highlights the sense of injustice we are meant to feel at science running amok. Bulgakov also uses grotesque details in places to highlight the decadence of Professor Preobrazhensky's lifestyle, at which we are also meant to take slight offense.

Second, there is the imagery of Moscow in the early 20s and its citizens that we are provided with, which emphasize the destitute and difficult conditions of contemporary life for Soviet citizens.


Since much of the novel makes fun of how easily Polygraph Polygraphovich is integrated into the Soviet apparatus, one of the central paradoxes of the novel is how such an oppressive and strong state ideology can be made to accommodate such a degenerate person. Another important paradox in the novel is how Professor Preobrazhensky is counterrevolutionary in his beliefs and actions, yet nonetheless enjoys the highest protection from the State on account of his fame.


Bulgakov uses parallelism throughout the text, but depending on the translation one uses of the novel, certain examples might not be consistent or hold up across versions.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

One example of metonymy in the text is when Dr. Bormenthal discusses the significance of the procedure used on Sharik with Professor Preobrazhensky. When Professor Preobrazhensky suggests that the procedure was not worthwhile, only succeeding in turning Sharik into a bad human being, Dr. Bormenthal proposes an alternate experiment in which the brain of a great thinker, like Spinoza, is used for the transplant instead of a common degenerate's brain. Here, Spinoza is used metonymically to stand in for someone of good virtue and intelligence.


On page 63, in Dr. Bormenthal's notes on Sharik's development, he writes, "the surgeon's scalpel has brought into being a new human entity" (63). By casting the scalpel as the agent of creation here, Bulgakov uses personification to echo the literary tone that someone like Dr. Bormenthal, a member of the intelligentsia, would be likely to use.